On the eve of “Texas Muslim Capitol Day,” an event to encourage Muslim participation in Texas government, a state lawmaker hosted a forum focused on homeland security and featuring some of America’s most outspoken anti-Muslim activists.
Rep. Kyle Biedermann hosted the “Homeland Security Forum” in an attempt to get out ahead of the Texas Muslim Capitol Day, an annual event sponsored by the Council on American-Islamic Relations that focuses on political activism. Beidermann has recently been in the news after being criticized for sending a letter to Muslim leaders in Texas asking about their beliefs and, specifically, if they would support designating the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization.
The event began with anti-Muslim activist Nonie Darwish, head of Former Muslims United (FMU). The group is a project of Pamela’s Geller’s American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI), one of the most known anti-Muslim figures in America and one of the signatories of Biedermann's letter.
Darwish offered stark warnings about Shariah law and warned that Islam was a threat to America.
“Islam, unlike biblical religions, it doesn’t grow in grassroots, it imposes itself on people through government control. And this is what Americans should understand,” Darwish said. “Any religion that kills those who leave it, should never get the benefit of calling itself a religion or being accepted as a religion," Darwish said to wild applause.
Such warnings of Shariah law were echoed later by Beth Van Duyne, the mayor of Irving, Texas, who is well-known in anti-Muslim circles after making national headlines two years ago when she seized on a chain letter saying that a Muslim court had imposed Shariah law in Irving. The rumor was false, but was a boon for the mayor’s popularity among anti-Muslim extremists. Van Duyne saw this as proof that Shariah law was being implemented in the United States even though similar religious tribunals have existed for decades in the American Jewish and American Christian communities to resolve disputes, something the Islamic Center of Irving stressed in a response to the mayor at the time. Later in 2015, the Center for Security Policy (CSP), an anti-Muslim hate group headed by conspiracy theorist Frank Gaffney gave Van Duyne its Freedom Flame Award.
In her speech in Austin, Van Duyne seized on the opportunity to rehash this story and promote anti-Muslim legislation known as American Laws for American Courts (ALAC) –– legislation authored by CSP lawyer David Yerushalmi.
Texas State Rep. Tony Tinderholt also offered warnings of Shariah law and promoted ALAC. Then, in a bizarre rant, Tinderholt attacked reporters covering the event. “To the media … you are at fault, you are half at fault for what is happening in America specifically with this topic,” Tinderholt said. “You need to be more responsible in your actions because what you’re doing is causing chaos and making [Muslims] think that they can create their own laws in America and I’m disgusted by it!”
Zuhdi Jasser, head of the Islamic Forum for Democracy (AFDI) and one of the few Muslim spokespersons with the anti-Muslim movement, also addressed the gathering via Skype and stressed that federal Countering Violence Extremism (CVE) programs, a controversial topic, need to be replaced with programs he branded "Countering Violent Islamism." Plans to that effect were recently leaked by the Trump administration.
The two most extreme speakers were Chris Gaubatz, the vice president of Understanding the Threat (UTT), an anti-Muslim group founded by disgraced ex-FBI agent John Guandolo, and Kamal Saleem, a self-described “former jihadist” speaker and author who pushes unverifiable conspiracy theories. Gaubatz used his presentation to attack CAIR, stating, “It is a matter of fact that CAIR is Hamas.” He then spun a familiar yarn connecting CAIR and the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) to the Muslim Brotherhood.
“The Muslim Brotherhood agenda is no different than that of Al Qaeda or the Islamic State," Gaubatz said.
Gaubatz then looked ahead to the Texas Muslim Capitol day and said when CAIR and ISNA are showing up in legislative offices this is part of the total jihad against America, noting that jihad is “not just physical warfare, it is also working with the media, its working with legislators.”
Saleem pushed several conspiracy theories during his speech, including one claim that “the FBI stats show 83% of American mosques teach radicalism.” Saleem also warned that “many” of the “hundreds of thousands” of refugees in Texas are Syrian, despite the fact that the United States has accepted much fewer. He also made the unverifiable claim that France has 577 Muslim no-go zones, areas where even the military cannot go. Both of these theories are often proffered by anti-Muslim extremists.
During the event, Saleem warned that “many” of the “hundreds of thousands” of refugees in Texas are Syrian and that there are 577 Muslim no-go zones in France where even the military cannot go. Both conspiracy theories are frequently preferred by anti-Muslim extremists worldwide.
Saleem’s claims were so far fetched that the final speaker Karen Lugo, author of the CSP's new book Mosques in America, stepped in to correct Salem’s theories. Instead, she wound up offering some unverifiable theories of her own including the claim that 60 to 80 percent of U.S. mosques sold radical literature or invited extreme speakers to address congregations.